Do you need compassion fatigue resources?
As we wend our way to the end of 2020, it seems almost laughable that we thought we would be locked down for a “long spring break” in March. Instead of waiting out what has, in the end, overtaken our lives this year, we have learned to live in it and through it – if not necessarily with it. And while I am beyond grateful that my immediate family has been spared – thus far – from a Covid diagnosis, I am not immune to the widespread disruption. No one is.
While many educators are working remotely, staring at little black Zoom squares instead of engaging with students in classrooms, we are still frontline workers. We may not be physically on the front lines, like our friends who work in health care, retail or food service, but we are on the social-emotional front lines of this crisis. Which is why we are at risk for compassion fatigue.
Compassion Fatigue in 2020
We are reading private chat messages that bring us sadness and despair while trying to maintain composure in front of the group. We are rethinking every aspect of our social-emotional learning curriculum and implementation – anything pre-pandemic seems woefully outmatched by our current circumstances. We are connecting families pummeled by household-wide COVID diagnoses with as many resources as we can.
And, one student and one family at a time, we are helping them pick up the pieces of 2020 and salvage a passing grade, as many credits as they can, and, to the best of our ability, a sense of hope for brighter days ahead.
These are undoubtedly stressful times, and while some stress is important and a natural element in everyday life, being in a constant state of stress is not healthy. Brene Brown recently spoke on her podcast with Amelia and Emily Nagoski, authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. I cannot recommend this podcast enough – especially this particular episode.
Some of the gems include: “self care requires a bubble of protection of other people who value your well-being at least as highly as you do.” Think about it – do you really have those people? If not, you need to find them.
Emily and Amelia implore us to “Lean on or lean with” others, not to “lean in or lean down.” That is where the support comes from, which is essential to helping combat compassion fatigue.
And “well-being is not a state it is an action; it is not the gold at the end of the rainbow, it is the rainbow.” Which is why so much of what you should consider changing are small, little, everyday things. It is the cumulative effect of the proverbial “small stuff” that really can make a difference.
So here are some compassion fatigue resources to help you manage:
If you are working at school, leave your work there. If you are working remotely, then transition away from the space in your home you are working. Create a physical change – and try very hard to not “go back” to work after you leave. Because whatever it is, it will be there in the morning.
Use Alexa or Google Home or Siri to remind you to get up, to eat, to move around. Use FaceTime or Google Hangouts to have “lunch” with colleagues, family or friends. Use schedule send to schedule follow up messages in the moment. Use snooze or do not disturb to suppress your inbox at night and on the weekends. And use Teachers Pay Teachers and other tools to support the creation of materials without having to do it all yourself.
Decompress along the way
Self-care should not be a special activity – it should be automatic, not-to-be-skipped, not unlike brushing your teeth or washing your face. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Rose Reif emphasizes this for special needs caregivers in this Lomah podcast episode, but her advice applies to most everyone in these trying times.
Find ways to decompress and manage your physical and emotional well-being several times a day, not just every 3rd Saturday from 1-2 pm. If you are working remotely, swap your commute for a walk or run. Whether remote or in person, you have a prep period – or more than one- take advantage of that time.
Know your reset buttons
Pay attention to what you can do that helps you “reset” most effectively, and take care to do so frequently. Maybe it’s a quick walk, a fresh cup of tea, or a call to a friend or family member. Maybe it’s a few minutes laughing at the Holderness family, or sharing memes on a group text.
Or maybe it’s taking an entire day off – really off – with no grading, no planning, no school whatsoever – something too many of my friends and colleagues have not done since March. Don’t underestimate the power of connecting with others – whether distanced or via technology – to help you feel more connected.
Create and support systems that bring change
While it is absolutely important to commiserate with those who understand the world in which you walk, it is even more important to work to change that world. So you must channel some of your compassion fatigue resources into systemic change. Like so many other types of trauma, the effects of COVID-19 seem to be worse for those who already have a high number of ACES: Adverse Childhood Experiences.
So as much as it can feel like you are “behind” in your curriculum, your students will likely be more primed to learn if you can help them turn the tide of harm caused by having a high number of ACES. Physician, author, and current California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris has identified six areas that can support resilience in individuals with a history of many ACES. These are: nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, maintaining healthy relationships and mental health and wellness.
And while some of that may be considered “core content” in specific classes, such as PE, science and psychology, there is no reason you can’t embrace many, if not all, of these important areas no matter what you teach. And if you are supporting these six areas for your students, you will hopefully focus on improving those areas for yourself as well – and that would be transformative education for us all.
What are your best compassion fatigue resources? Please share in the comments.